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Posted 03/16/2023 in Informational

The Sunken History of Awalt: A Town Beneath Tims Ford Lake

The Sunken History of Awalt: A Town Beneath Tims Ford Lake

Nestled in the heart of Tennessee lies Tims Ford Lake, a picturesque body of water that serves as a popular spot for outdoor enthusiasts and tourists alike. But beneath its sparkling surface lies a hidden past - the remnants of a once-thriving town named Awalt. A victim of progress, Awalt now rests underwater, its history submerged along with its structures. This article delves into the factual account of Awalt's past, its ultimate fate, and the legacy it leaves behind.  

Tims Ford Lake Map showing AwaltTims Ford Lake Map showing Awalt

The above map of Tims Ford Lake shows where the city of Awalt originally resided.  Note the roads some of which were submerged as well.  You can see Winchester TN in the bottom left.

Is There A Town Under Tims Ford Lake?

I've been asked this question from both family and friends, is there a town under Tims Ford Lake ... yes, the small town of Awalt, which is now submerged and located by Holiday Landing Marina 

The Town of Awalt: A Flourishing Community

Awalt, established in the late 19th century, was a small yet bustling rural community in Franklin County, Tennessee.   Built by the Elk River, the town derived its name from one of its founding families, the Awalts. The name likely came from John Awalt, who lived nearby around 1850.   The river's abundance of fish and fertile soil attracted settlers and bolstered the town's agrarian economy. In its heyday, Awalt boasted a thriving population, with homes, businesses, a church, a school, and a post office.  A flour mill utilized the water power of one of the local creeks. 

The town's residents, mostly farmers, cultivated various crops such as corn, tobacco, and cotton. Some locals also ventured into small-scale manufacturing, operating mills that processed grain and lumber. Awalt was not only self-sufficient but also closely-knit, with residents forging strong bonds and a sense of camaraderie that characterized small-town America during that era.

Awalt - AB Rhoton under Tims Ford LakeAB Rhoton's general store in Awalt, TN

A.B. Rhoten’s store and Awalt Methodist Church were the center of community life according to “Awalt: A Nostalgic Memory and Farewell" written by Anna Trawick in 1970 in the Franklin County Historical Review.

Town of Awalt Methodist ChurchTown of Awalt Methodist Church

Mule Pulling Event in Awalt c1953Annual Mule Pulling Event in Awalt c1953

The Need for a Reservoir: Tims Ford Dam

By the mid-20th century, the region faced growing concerns about flood control and water supply. Additionally, the demand for hydroelectric power was on the rise as electricity became increasingly essential for modern life. In response to these needs, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) proposed the construction of the Tims Ford Dam, a project that would significantly impact the town of Awalt.

The TVA, established in 1933, aimed to foster economic development and improve the quality of life in the Tennessee Valley. Its mission encompassed flood control, electricity generation, and the development of recreational facilities. The Tims Ford Dam, completed in 1970, stood 175 feet high and spanned 1,682 feet across the Elk River. The resulting reservoir, Tims Ford Lake, covered an area of approximately 10,700 acres and boasted 246 miles of shoreline.

Tims Ford Lake Dam in construction phaseTims Ford Lake Dam in construction phase

The Submergence of Awalt

The construction of the Tims Ford Dam and the subsequent creation of Tims Ford Lake necessitated the displacement of hundreds of families, including the residents of Awalt. As the lake's waters began to rise, families were forced to abandon their homes and relocate to nearby towns, taking with them their memories and a profound sense of loss.  Cemeteries were relocated to higher ground.

In the months leading up to the flooding, the TVA worked with local residents to ensure a smooth transition. They provided financial compensation for the properties and assisted families in finding new homes. Many of the buildings in Awalt were disassembled, with some structures, such as the church and schoolhouse, carefully relocated to nearby communities. Despite these efforts, the submergence of Awalt represented the end of an era and the loss of a cherished way of life.

Top of Gourd Neck Hill in Awalt which is now under water Top of Gourd Neck Hill in Awalt which is now under water 

The Legacy of Awalt

Today, Tims Ford Lake is a thriving recreational destination, offering fishing, boating, hiking, and camping opportunities to visitors. The lake's waters are home to a variety of fish species, including largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappie, and catfish. Tims Ford State Park, located along the lake's shoreline, features a marina, golf course, and vacation cabins, drawing thousands of tourists annually.  

While Awalt's physical remnants are now hidden beneath the lake, its memory lives on in the hearts of its former residents and their descendants. The sunken town stands as a symbol of the sacrifices made for the sake of progress and the resilience of those who had to rebuild their lives. A few markers and plaques in the area pay tribute to the town's history, reminding visitors of the community that once thrived there.

In recent years, the story of Awalt has captured the interest of historians, divers, and curious tourists alike. Scuba diving and underwater exploration have become increasingly popular at Tims Ford Lake, with divers seeking to uncover the secrets of the submerged town. The foundations of some buildings, old roads, and the remnants of the former bridge are still visible underwater, providing a haunting and tangible connection to the past.

The tale of Awalt serves as a reminder of the delicate balance between human progress and the preservation of history. While the creation of Tims Ford Lake brought about essential resources and recreational opportunities for the region, it came at the expense of a close-knit community and its way of life.

In the end, the story of Awalt is one of resilience and adaptation. Its former residents have integrated into new communities, ensuring that the spirit of Awalt lives on through their stories and memories. As future generations visit Tims Ford Lake, the town's legacy will continue to be a testament to the human capacity for reinvention in the face of change.

Awalt Memories

Teresa P:  My favorite childhood memories are all from Awalt! Playing in the creek while Daddy tended to the cows; Riding my sister's pony to the top of the hill where Mama was picking up walnuts (no bridle or saddle were needed); attending church and ringing the bell; sliding down the hill from the old school house to get candy from Mr Rhoton's store

Tim D:  I remember the Awalt community My great grandmother was an Awalt and Awalt was my father’s middle name.

Jimmy B:  I was there everyday in living color, Every year on the 4th of July we had a big barbecue there was cars all over Awalt People came from everywhere. 

Donna R:  My dearly loved mother and father in law pictured! Oh, the treasured memories of that little community that I’ve heard over the years! Mr. Rhoton was actually shot by a neighbor’s son over the incoming Tim’s Ford Dam.

Donna M:  I knew people that lost their homes/farms to the lake. They were able to sell lumber from their farms before they had to move. They moved to Winchester.

Awalt: The Town Under Tims Ford Lake

The submerged town of Awalt, now resting beneath the waters of Tims Ford Lake, is a poignant reminder of the price of progress. While its physical structures have been lost to time, the spirit of the community lives on through the memories of its former residents and their descendants. The tale of Awalt serves as both a cautionary tale and an inspiring example of human resilience, providing valuable lessons for generations to come. As visitors continue to explore the area and discover its rich history, the legacy of Awalt will remain an integral part of the Tims Ford Lake experience.

Other Interesting Historical Articles

  1. Jack Daniel’s Distillery: The Legacy of an American Icon
  2. Hundred Oaks Castle - Winchester TN Piece of History
  3. Tullahoma, Tennessee: A Tapestry of History and Progress

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